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SITTING at my desk on Wednesday, trying to avoid the irony of having to work on Emancipation Day, instead of setting fingers to keyboard, I turn eyes to window and watch the water lash the pane. It always rains on the Emancipation parade; you could almost set your watch by the banner at the head of the march reaching the National Museum and the black clouds opening up over the black people. Water lashing the pane and the Africans; well, better water than a whip.
What a place we come from, our history; what a dismal way to start anything. These little rocks we try to persuade ourselves are countries began with the bulk of the people in the place actually enslaved; and that was after the bulk of the people who were here before anybody else were methodically snuffed out, like fleas on a stray dog before you let it into your home.
How can anything that begins like that end well?
And what kind of place do we go to from here? Where in Hell does our future lie?
Emancipation Day and how many of us are really free?
Even to see what happens right in front our eyes?
I take off my thinking cap and put on my bright green dri-fit one and hit the road, or at least the pitch-walk. I don’t have kente cloth workout clothes – Under Armour haven’t exploited that niche yet – but I walk the Savannah towards Frederick Street, hoping to find the parade this year, although I never have in the past: the same thing always happens: the rain comes down and washes away my commitment to what is almost a purely symbolic act anyway.
Not that there’s much commitment to wash away in the first place; Emancipation Day is too overstuffed with irony for anyone with both eyes open to wash his feet and jump een, dry so, starting with the clothes on everyone’s backs: the kente cloth, that garment of Ghana, that dashiki declaration of blackness, that textile that typifies Africa… is largely made in Holland; just that would be too ironic to bear, but Holland is also one of the earliest and most vicious slave-trading nations: there was no “light slavery” in the New World, every enslaved human suffered unimaginably – but people on Dutch plantations suffered exquisitely; if Johann Cryuff and the Dutch World Cup team created “total football” in the 1970s, Willem Usselincx and the Dutch West India Company started “total slavery” in the 1570s.
Hard to put on kente cloth and feel glorious.
Or even celebratory.
Hard, actually, not to see it as an old mas; a very old mas.
Irony so strong it might be steely, too, in knowing that the big parade and all the splendid celebrations of African pride are paid for, effectively, by the modern version of the European “exploiter” of half-a-century ago: Emancipation Day is tied – chained? – directly to the same people who started the Triangular Trade. Every dollar in Emancipation Day’s jollification comes, not from our own strenuous efforts, but from a niggardly tax on the income of European and North American energy companies. We pay for the commemoration of our emancipation from the exploiter by converting to our use as many of their pennies as we can without discouraging them from extracting their petro-dollars.
We pay for our fete with unearned income.
Hard to see the emancipation there, except in a pappyshow way that makes us the pappyshow.
Even the real pride we can take in Trinidad & Tobago being the first nation in the world to declare Emancipation Day a public holiday begins to seem illusory because the most appreciated effect of Emancipation Day for non-Africans in Trinidadian was that it led to Indian Arrival Day.
If we’re free, what are we free to do? Something? Or nothing?
The rain comes down heavily and the pool of irony thickens, like the floodwaters backing up in the estuary where Cipriani Blvd meets the Savannah.
And it’s hard to tell if the parade in the distance is waving or drowning.
Emancipation Day and how does anyone awake celebrate the notion of freedom in a place where real freedom, and the responsibility that comes with it, is simply ducked?
Emancipation Day, for us, is not a declaration of freedom but an excess of freeness.
BC Pires refuses to accept that penicillin was discovered by Robert Mugabe or that the Norse gods were really from Egypt.